Friday, October 30, 2009

Spam is Good

I was recently at the DMA show in San Diego. During the show, I had three different people come up to me had (roughly) the same conversation with each of them -

"Why did you stop publishing your blog?"

"I haven't stopped publishing my blog"

"I didn't get an email to let me know"

"In the last email I sent, I told you I didn't want to spam anyone by sending an email every time"

"Oh. But why didn't you send an email?"

While I would love to think that people are just waiting for my new blog posts, it pointed out a much larger issue - I had made the "spam" decision for them. It turns out that my personal definition of spam was much, much tighter than what these people (which is an admittedly small sample size) were willing to bear. While I was very proud of myself for being so anti-spam, I actually did a disservice to people who would like to see my content.

When I pressed a bit further and let people know they could either bookmark the blog or subscribe to it, the response was "oh...I'm kinda busy - I like to read your stuff but I don't have the time to go searching for it." When I told them I posted on both FB and Twitter, they gave me that "I'm a REALLY busy person who has no time for that nonsense" look.

Here is the value of email in a nutshell - it's a reminder service that prompts people into taking action that they WANT to take. Due to the persistence of the email message, people can look at the reminder when THEY choose to. People need reminders. They WANT reminders. My (artificially) telling them that they were not going to get reminders took away something that they like (although not so much that they subscribed or posted or anything - it's a very slim commitment.)

This frequency argument goes on all the time in the email industry. There is a very vocal sect in the email space that claims if an email is not "pitch perfect," it must be spam. Since spam is inherently evil, then all spam must be stopped - damned what the consumer actually thinks. It's an idea that is not based on the voice of the customer, but instead on the (usually) misguided thoughts of a "marketing genius" who is more focused on their own head rather than that of the consumer.

Now before anyone gets on the "Bob's a spammer so he must be evil soapbox," understand that I'm not talking about email that - at some point - you just didn't ask for. But by artificially limiting what you send to people based upon YOUR beliefs - rather than those of your customers - you end up limiting the incredible value of your email program.

Give your customers some credit - they will tell you when they have had enough.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Never Trust Anyone Under 30

As many of you may have read, the Wall Street Journal (via twenty-something author Jessica Vascellaro) recently published an article about how email's reign is over entitled "Why Email No Longer Rules". The article quoted a computer history museum curator, an executive at AOL (who oversees Bebo and AIM), and a guy at SharePoint as proof points. Apparently, journalists at the WSJ are not required to consider balance (not one ISP or ESP is quoted) or research (not one email marketer is quoted.) It's a journalism standard that even we bloggers can understand.

While we can sit here and argue about the merits of the article, it does point out one jarring fact - our culture's fascination with youth (and what the kids are up to) is really beginning to impact the choices we make for our marketing channels. And that's a bad thing.

Here's the solution. Never trust anyone under 30 with your marketing spend. Don't do it. It's bad for you. Like in crossing the streams bad.

The reason is simple - youth goes hand in hand with passion. You're supposed to be passionate about things when you're in your 20's. But while that passion can be used to invent wonderful things by taking highly risky bets, that same "risky bets" persona can kill your marketing effort. Your job as a (direct) marketer is to be dispassionate about media channels. To not get caught up in the hype and instead focus on the results. The problem is, it's hard to be dispassionate, especially when the WSJ is braying like a donkey about the death of one of your beloved channels.

As you get closer to (and past) 30, chances are you've been kicked around a little by life. You have to eat the consequences of your actions. You learn that the risky/passionate play is not always the best move to make. You learn that Newton's Third Law is real. It's at THAT point you're ready to be trusted with making decisions.

Your 20-something staffers all think they can run your team. They just won't say so right to your face. Your job is to give them something they're passionate about and let them run. Hopefully, they'll fail at it. It's good for them.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Google Wave Unleashed!

So Google Wave has been unleashed. Well, sorta. If you can wrangle in invite, that is.

I don't have an invite. But I have sat through the Google Wave full-length introductory video, as well as the truncated 10 minute You Tube version (thank you thank you thank you!) So I know a little bit, but not enough.

Everyone in the email industry is concerned that Google Wave represents the end of email. Given what I've seen so far - as of today - that's just not the case. The products are fundamentally different. From what I've seen, Google Wave is really just a souped up version of AIM (a great product that seems to be a bit of an afterthought for AOL) as opposed to a replacement for email. If social media studies are any indication, it may actually increase email usage.

Google Wave is essentially a real time collaboration tool. Problem is, people don't like to collaborate all that much. I mean, we do when we have to. Otherwise, group-type communications are normally avoided. When's the last time you woke up and went "Oh boy! I have a group meeting today! I'm really excited!" Having a tool that potentially increases the amount of time you can spend in collaboration can be either a good thing or a bad thing - if it helps increase communication by making sure you don't have to be in the same room with those people, it can be good. If it turns into a giant time suck with people dropping in left and right, it would be bad.

I'm also a little concerned about Google's approach to the Wave. The product looks a bit like an answer in search of a question. The fact that they've taken the open source route ("so you can help us finish the product") looks like they're not really sure what to do with it either. While hiding Gmail behind the "invite only" approach built some buzz (or maybe bought time until the product was better) all it really did was to slow down the adaptation of the product (full disclosure - I use Gmail. Eh.)

Gmail, in fact, is an excellent parallel. Everyone was quaking in their boots when Gmail first came out. It did a fantastic job of searching through email - what everyone thought was the Achilles heel of existing tools - but had (and still has) a clunky UI that forces you to learn a new paradigm for email (because everyone knows the brainiacs at Google are way smarter than you). You had to have an invitation. It was exclusive. But last time I checked my email delivery stats (at a company I once knew), gmail represented about 15% of our email names. Not shabby and - to be fair - a GOOD 15%, but not the dominant monster that Google Search represents. (Somewhere Trout and Ries are smiling at the Law of Line Extensions.)

Will Google Wave be the tsunami that wipes out email? Not any time soon. Google does work hard to prove itself correct, so they may have put some code out there that may be a threat at some point in the future. But right now it's the Google Ripple...The Gripple.